Everyone who has ever used a laptop knows that sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when your laptop battery is about to die. Battery life is still one of the single most important issues that people consider when purchasing a new notebook. And why not? Battery life is the key factor to the mobility of a laptop computer. Sure, we all like thin and light PCs but even the thinnest, lightest laptop is nothing but a paperweight when the battery dies.
In some cases you might be able to turn to an extended battery for your laptop, but as manufacturers race to make thinner and lighter laptops, many of these "ultrabooks" have integrated batteries that cannot be removed or replaced without completely disassembling the laptop. So what can you do to squeeze out a few extra minutes (or even a few extra hours) of battery life? With a few minutes worth of simple changes, you can easily get your work done without constantly looking for the nearest power outlet.
Most of this guide will focus on modern notebooks running Windows 7, but much of the advice below holds true even if you're running Windows XP or planning to move to Windows 8.
Don't Overwork Your Laptop
In the simplest terms, anything your laptop does requires power. Therefore, your laptop is wasting power every time it does something that you don't "need" it to do. One simple solution is to close applications you aren't using rather than leaving programs running in the background or minimized in the Windows taskbar. However, you can go one step further.
Every laptop running a modern version of Windows has the ability change power profiles using the Windows Power Management. Click on that battery icon on the bottom of your screen, and make sure your notebook is set to "Balanced" or "Power Saver" if you want a quick and simple way to limit unnecessary power consumption.
The "High Performance" setting is great if you are encoding video or playing games but it makes your processor and hard drive(s) work harder than they have to, using more power and throwing out more heat. Most notebooks also include power regulation software from the laptop manufacturer (HP Power Advisor, Toshiba Power Saver, etc.) which can be used to help reduce overall power consumption.
Being Wireless Will Eventually Leave You Powerless
We usually need our laptops to be connected to a wireless network of some kind; Wi-Fi, 3G broadband, your 4G USB modem, or even your Bluetooth external keyboard and mouse at the office. The problem is that constantly sending and receiving wireless signals drains a significant portion of your notebook's battery. The solution is simple: If you're not actively using a wireless connection then make sure you turn it off. You can disable Wi-Fi or Bluetooth on your laptop either by clicking on the wireless network icon on the bottom right corner of your Windows desktop or by pressing the Wireless on/off switch on laptops that have such switches.
Another Bright Idea: Turn Down The Display
The single component that consumes the most amount of power on your notebook is the screen backlight. This is particularly true for "desktop replacement" notebooks with large screens (15-inch and 17-inch laptops). Yes, displays usually look better when the backlight is nice and bright but when you're away from a power outlet you need to balance your desire for a vivid screen with your desire to keep your laptop running. Start by lowering the screen brightness to the lowest setting and increase it slowly until you reach the dimmest setting you find bearable. Of course, this will vary depending on the room you are in ... you'll have to increase the screen brightness if you're working outdoors under direct sunlight but you might be able to use the absolute lowest brightness setting when you're working on a plane with the cabin lights off.
DVDs Will Leave Your Laptop DEAD
Sooner or later most people find themselves stuck on a flight or in a car without Wi-Fi and nothing better to do but watch a movie to pass the time. Pulling out that DVD or Blu-ray collection sounds like fun but it's one of the fastest ways to drain your laptop's battery. The motor that spins the optical drive and the laser used to read the discs create a huge power draw while the disc is spinning. In addition to the drive, your laptop's processor (and the GPU) has to work hard to decode the audio and video. This usually translates into more than a 30% increase in power consumption compared to when your notebook is basically just sitting idle while you type a document in Microsoft Word. If you must watch movies, try to stick with digital content that you previously downloaded such as iTunes or Amazon Instant Video that has been saved to your computer. You can also stream online from Netflix.com or Hulu.com but, as previously mentioned, Wi-Fi power consumption is something to keep in mind.
Right out of the box, almost all notebooks have superfluous software installed by the manufacturer to add "value" to your new PC. Translation: most new PCs come loaded with bloatware (AKA crapware) which doesn't need to be installed on your computer. While some of these applications aren't causing any problems (other than wasting storage space on your hard drive) some of these applications are setup to automatically run in the background when you start Windows and in some cases they use your wireless network to check for updates and download alerts.
Bloatware can be a touchy subject since some people like having these extra applications that check for updates to DVD playback software or checks for the latest accessory deals from the laptop manufacturer. It's ultimately up to you to decide whether you want to uninstall the "extras" that came pre-installed on your laptop.
A Few More Changes To Windows
In addition to the typical bloatware, most new PCs come with the following processes running in the background ... all of which eat up precious CPU cycles and trash your hard drive. You might find some of these processes helpful, but if you are trying to squeeze out every possible minute of battery life from your laptop then keep reading.
Automatic Updates: You should keep your system up to date with the latest Windows updates, this should be done at your own leisure if you care about battery life. The best time to update Windows is obviously when you're connected to a power outlet. To disable automatic updates, go into your Control Panel and click on "Windows Update". In the next window click on "change settings" on the left side, and make your way to the next screen. Now change your selection to "Never check for updates", and click OK. Please note that this may make your system vulnerable if you don't manually check for updates on a regular basis.
Windows Indexing: Windows disk indexing helps to reduce search times when trying to find a particular file on your hard drive, but will wreak havoc on your battery life in the process. To disable indexing, open "My Computer" and right click on your hard drive. On the first screen that shows up, uncheck "Index this drive for faster searching". You will need to proceed through a few prompts, as well as clicking "ignore all" if prompted. This may take quite a bit of time depending on how full your drive is.
Anti-Virus Software: AV software is a huge performance hog both when searching for viruses and when updating virus definitions. On the other hand, your AV software can also be a life saver depending on what type of sites your visit or what sorts of files you encounter. If you are a very careful and savvy PC user then you can steer clear of harmful sites and files and may not need any AV software. Be warned that removing AV software from your system is risky and should be done at your own discretion. If you've had a number of virus problems in the past then do NOT consider removing your anti-virus software.
If you are running anti-virus software then you might want to make sure the automatic updates and virus scans aren't scheduled to take place when you're running on battery power.
The next step of this guide requires you to use the Task Scheduler and disable a few services that your computer runs in the background while you are using your laptop. This can be accessed by going into your program list, then Accessories, then System Tools, finally clicking Task Scheduler.
In the list of Active Tasks, the following items cause the most unwanted activity in the background. To disable any of these items, double click the selection which will take you to another screen listing more details on that activity. Now all you need to do is right click the item, and click disable to stop it from bothering you in the future.
Consolidator: This runs in the background for the Customer Improvement Program. Not a major power draw but it's something you can turn off
Scheduled Defrag: Defragments your hard drive, and will bog down your system in the process. I handle this at my own leisure instead of letting the system schedule it weekly.
You can extend the amount of run time on your laptop's battery by hours in some cases simply by following this guide and being mindful of the software you are using on your laptop. Even when not increasing battery life, many of these tweaks help improve system performance, and many times make your old laptop feel like a speed demon again. You can keep that old laptop and save it from the landfill for another year.
Your laptop is more like you than you might think: The harder you work, the more energy you lose. If you can find the right balance between resting (being idle) and doing all the things you want to do with your laptop you'll be amazed at how long your battery will keep running.